Bad karma? Hong Kong's Po Lin Monastery sued for building pagodas on land it did not own

Po Lin alleged to have built on land it did not own, extending bad run for Buddhist bosses as Ting Wai faces mismanagement claim

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 October, 2015, 3:58am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 October, 2015, 4:16am

Scandal-rocked Ting Wai Monastery in Tai Po was not the only religious centre to become entangled in legal woes last week, with Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island being sued for allegedly constructing pagodas on a plot of land it did not own.

Ting Wai is likely to face a lawsuit next week forcing it to disclose its accounts as its chief nun is accused of mismanaging millions of dollars in donations.

Over at Po Lin, a writ was filed with the District Court on Thursday claiming the monastery and its occupiers were illegally occupying a piece of land in Lantau that belonged to a Tang family.

They built a concrete pavement and five pagodas that were used to place the ashes or bones of eminent monks or abbots, according to the writ, submitted by Joseph Tang Yu-sum, manager of family clan Tang Chak Wai Tong.

The first of the pagodas was built in 1938, but the owner gave Po Lin a deadline in April this year to tear them down and return the land, the writ showed. After the monastery failed to do so, the owner filed suit seeking damages.

"Recently, it came to the plaintiff's notice that [Po Lin Monastery and its occupiers] has or have without knowledge and consent of the plaintiff made concrete paving on the said properties and erected five Buddhist pagodas," the writ said.

"As such [Po Lin Monastery and its occupiers] are in illegal occupation of the said properties."

The writ continued: "The said conduct of [Po Lin Monastery and its occupiers] constitutes trespass onto the said property by which the plaintiff is entitled to evict [Po Lin Monastery and its occupiers] therefrom."

The owner said the rateable value of the land - the value ascribed it by the Ratings and Valuation Department - did not exceed HK$240,000, so it filed the writ to the District Court rather than the High Court.

READ MORE: Bad faith: director accuses chief nun of 'sham marriage, embezzlement' in Hong Kong monastery 

Meanwhile, Ting Wai's chief nun Sik Chi Ding was arrested on Wednesday amid allegations she pocketed donations and married twice to help two mainland monks secure permanent Hong Kong residency. Both monks were affiliated with Po Lin.

Solicitor Mary Jean Reimer, who served on Ting Wai's board of directors, said she had prepared a writ, to be filed early this week, to compel the monastery to reveal its books.

On Tuesday, Reimer told the media she and seven other volunteers uncovered the possibility that millions of dollars donated to the monastery might have been misappropriated.

She said she started a fundraising campaign this March and raised HK$5 million within half a year. But they later suspected Chi Ding of bypassing a special bank account designated for maintenance funds and transferring some of the donations into another account under her control.

Reimer claimed she confronted Chi Ding, who could pay back only HK$400,000.